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House to Debate Renewal of Gun Tracing Limits

More than 200 U.S. mayors are urging Congress to repeal a piece of legislation limiting the release of information that would allow authorities to track firearms. The original sponsor of the limits and a mayor discuss the law's merits.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There's a limit to how much information the federal government can release about guns confiscated during criminal investigations, about who bought them and who sold them. A 2003 amendment permits the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to release gun tracing data to local police only for specific investigations.

    Supporters say that protects law-abiding gun owners from unwanted inquisitions, but opponents of the amendment say it also obstructs broader criminal investigations into terrorist activities and illegal gun sales. Gun trace limits will be up for renewal tomorrow in the House of Representatives.

    We get two sides of the debate now from Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee and a former Democratic congressman; and Republican Congressman Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, he's the original sponsor of the limits.

    Mayor Barrett, to you first. You're one of, what, over more than 200 mayors who are taking on this cause. This amendment passed in 2003, was voted on again, passed again three more times. Why do away with it?

    MAYOR TOM BARRETT (D), Milwaukee: Well, because we want the federal government to be on our side in fighting crime, in making sure we're doing everything we can to focus in on this very small minority of gun dealers who are in the business of getting guns into the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

    And for us to have the federal government basically say, "We're going to be on the side of these rogue gun dealers," as opposed to the side of the police chiefs and the sheriffs in this country, to me is mind-boggling. I want Congress to be on our side so that we can reduce the number of homicides that we've got in this country, rather than allow these gun dealers — and, again, it's a very small minority of rogue gun dealers who don't seem to abide by the law.

    We don't even know that, of course, because the federal government is prohibiting us from having this information, is prohibiting police departments throughout this entire country from being able to look at trends as to what guns are coming into their community, where they're coming from.

    The latest version is so absurd, it actually says to the law enforcement agents that you have to certify that you are looking at a specific crime or you're going to go to prison for three to five years. So now Congress is, in essence, threatening the very people that are out there enforcing our laws, saying you're going to be locked up potentially if you don't do what we say to do.